Sophy of Kravonia: A Novelскачать книгу бесплатно
The fighting was over. One scene remained which Rastatz did not see. When Colonel Stafnitz, too, heard the call "Hands up!" when the firing stopped and all became quiet, he ceased to struggle. Dunstanbury found him suddenly changed to a log beneath him; his hands were already on the Colonel's throat, and he could have strangled him now without difficulty. But when Stafnitz no longer tried to defend himself, he loosed his hold, got up, and stood over him with his hand on the revolver in his belt. The Colonel fingered his throat a minute, sat up, looked round, and rose to his feet. He saw Sophy standing before him; by her side Peter Vassip lay on the ground, tended by Basil Williamson and one of his comrades. Colonel Stafnitz bowed to Sophy with a smile.
"I forgot you, madame," said Stafnitz.
"I didn't forget Monseigneur," she answered.
He looked round him again, shrugged his shoulders, and seemed to think for a moment. There was an absolute stillness – a contrast to the preceding turmoil. But the silence made uncomfortable men whom the fight had not shaken. Their eyes were set on Stafnitz.
"The Prince died in fair fight," he said.
"No; you sent Mistitch to murder him," Sophy replied. Her eyes were relentless; and Stafnitz was ringed round with enemies.
"I apologize for this embarrassment. I really ought to have been killed – it's just a mistake," he said, with a smile. He turned quickly to Dunstanbury: "You seem to be a gentleman, sir. Pray come with me; I need a witness." He pointed with his unwounded hand to the barn.
Dunstanbury bowed assent. The Colonel, in his turn, bowed to Sophy, and the two of them turned and walked off towards the barn. Sophy stood motionless, watching them until they turned the corner; then she fell on her knees and began to talk soothingly to Peter Vassip, who was hard hit, but, in Basil Williamson's opinion, promised to do well. Sophy was talking to the poor fellow when the sound of a revolver shot – a single shot – came from the barn. Colonel Stafnitz had corrected the mistake. Sophy did not raise her head. A moment later Dunstanbury came back and rejoined them. He exchanged a look with Sophy, inclining his head as a man does in answering "Yes." Then she rose.
"Now for the barges and the guns," she said.
They could not carry the guns back to Volseni; nor, indeed, was there any use for them there now. But neither were Monseigneur's guns for the enemies of Monseigneur. Under Lukovitch's skilled directions (his wound proved slight) the big guns were so disabled as to remain of little value, and the barges taken out into mid-stream and there scuttled with their cargoes. While one party pursued this work, Dunstanbury made the prisoners collect their wounded and dead, place them on a wagon, and set out on their march to Slavna. Then his men placed their dead on horses – they had lost three. Five were wounded besides Peter Vassip, but none of them severely – all could ride.
For Peter they took a cart from the farm to convey him as far as the ascent to the hills; up that he would have to be carried by his comrades.
It was noon before all their work was done. The barges were settling in the water. As they started to ride back to Volseni, the first sank; the second was soon to follow it.
"We have done our work," said Lukovitch.
And Sophy answered, "Yes."
But Stafnitz's men had not carried the body of their commander back. They left it in the barn, cursing him for the trap he had led them into. Later in the day, the panic-stricken lock-keeper stole out from the cellar where he had hidden himself, and found it in the barn. He and his wife lifted it with cursings, bore it to the river, and flung it in. It was carried over the weir, and floated down to Slavna. They fished it out with a boat-hook just opposite Suleiman's Tower. The hint to Captain Sterkoff was a broad one. He reported a vacancy in the command, and sent the keys of the fort to General Stenovics. It was Sunday morning.
"The Colonel has got back just when he said he would. But where are the guns?" asked General Stenovics of Captain Markart. The Captain had by now made up his mind which turn to take.
But no power ensued to Stenovics. At the best his fate was a soft fall – a fall on to a cushioned shelf. The cup of Kravonia's iniquity, full with the Prince's murder, brimmed over with the punishment of the man who had caused it. The fight by the lock of Miklevni sealed Kravonia's fate. Civilization must be vindicated! Long columns of flat-capped soldiers begin to wind, like a great snake, over the summit of St. Peter's Pass. Sophy watched them through a telescope from the old wall of Volseni.
"Our work is done. Monseigneur has mightier avengers," she said.
TRUE TO HER LOVE
Volseni forgave Sophy its dead and wounded sons. Her popularity blazed up in a last fierce, flickering fire. The guns were taken; they would not go to Slavna; they would never batter the walls of Volseni into fragments. Slavna might be defied again. That was the great thing to Volseni, and it made little account of the snakelike line which crawled over St. Peter's Pass, and down to Dobrava, and on to Slavna. Let Slavna – hated Slavna – reckon with that! And if the snake – or another like it – came to Volseni? Well, that was better than knuckling down to Slavna. To-night King Sergius was avenged, and Queen Sophia had returned in victory!
For the first time since the King's death the bell of the ancient church rang joyously, and men sang and feasted in the gray city of the hills. Thirty from Volseni had beaten a hundred from Slavna; the guns were at the bottom of the Krath; it was enough. If Sophy had bidden them, they would have streamed down on Slavna that night in one of those fierce raids in which their forefathers of the Middle Ages had loved to swoop upon the plain.
But Sophy had no delusions. She saw her Crown – that fleeting phantom ornament, fitly foreseen in the visions of a charlatan – passing from her brow without a sigh. She had not needed Dunstanbury's arguments to prove to her that there was no place for her left in Kravonia. She was content to have it so; she had done enough. Sorrow had not passed from her face, but serenity had come upon it in fuller measure. She had struck for Monseigneur, and the blow was witness to her love. It was enough in her, and enough in little Volseni. Let the mightier avengers do the rest!
She had allowed Dunstanbury to leave her after supper in order to make preparations for a start to the frontier at dawn. "You must certainly go," she had said, "and perhaps I'll come with you."
She went at night up on to the wall – always her favorite place; she loved the spaciousness of air and open country before her there. Basil Williamson found her deep in thought when he came to tell her of the progress of the wounded.
"They're all doing well, and Peter Vassip will live. Dunstanbury has made him promise to come to him when he's recovered, so you'll meet him again at all events. And Marie Zerkovitch and her husband talk of settling in Paris. You won't lose all your Kravonian friends."
"You assume that I'm coming with you to-morrow morning?"
"I'm quite safe in assuming that Dunstanbury won't go unless you do," he answered, smiling. "We can't leave you alone here, you know."
"I shouldn't stay here, anyhow," she said. "Or, at any rate, I should be where nobody could hurt me." She pointed at a dim lantern, fastened to the gate-tower by an iron clamp, then waved her hand towards the surrounding darkness. "That's life, isn't it?" she asked. "If I believed that I could go to Monseigneur, I would go to-night – nay, I would have gone at Miklevni; it was only putting my head out of that ditch a minute sooner! If I believed even that I could lie in the church there and know that he was near! If I believed even that I could lie there quietly and remember and think of him! You're a man of science – you're not a peasant's child, as I am. What do you think? You mustn't wonder that I've had my thoughts, too. At Lady Meg's we did little else than try to find out whether we were going on anywhere else. That's all she cared about. And if she does ever get to a next world, she won't care about that; she'll only go on trying to find out whether there's still another beyond. What do you think?"
"I hardly expected to find you so philosophically inclined," he said.
"It's a practical question with me now. On its answer depends whether I come with you or stay here – by Monseigneur in the church."
Basil said something professional – something about nerves and temporary strain. But he performed this homage to medical etiquette in a rather perfunctory fashion. He had never seen a woman more composed or more obviously and perfectly healthy. Sophy smiled and went on:
"But if I live, I'm sure at least of being able to think and able to remember. It comes to a gamble, doesn't it? It's just possible I might get more; it's quite likely – I think it's probable – I should lose even what I have now."
"I think you're probably right about the chances of the gamble," he told her, "though no doubt certainty is out of place – or at least one doesn't talk about it. Shall I tell you what science says?"
"No," said Sophy, smiling faintly. "Science thinks in multitudes – and I'm thinking of the individual to-night. Even Lady Meg never made much of science, you know."
"Do you remember the day when I heard you your Catechism in the avenue at Morpingham?"
"Yes, I remember. Does the Catechism hold good in Kravonia, though?"
"It continues, anyhow, a valuable document in its bearing on this life. You remember the mistake you made, I dare say?"
"I've never forgotten it. It's had something to do with it all," said Sophy. "That's how you, as well as Lord Dunstanbury, come in at the beginning as you do at the end."
"Has it nothing to do with the question now – putting it in any particular phraseology you like?" In his turn he pointed at the smoky lantern. "That's not life," he said, growing more earnest, yet smiling. "That's now – just here and now – and, yes, it's very smoky." He waved his hand over the darkness. "That's life. Dark? Yes, but the night will lift, the darkness pass away; valley and sparkling lake will be there, and the summit of the heaven-kissing hills. Life cries to you with a sweet voice."
"Yes," she murmured, "with a sweet voice. And perhaps some day there would be light on the hills. But, ah, I'm torn in sunder this night. I wish I had died there at Miklevni while my blood was hot." She paused a long while in thought. Then she went on: "If I go, I must go while it's still dark, and while these good people sleep. Go and tell Lord Dunstanbury to be ready to start an hour before dawn; and do you and he come then to the door of the church. If I'm not waiting for you there, come inside and find me."
He started towards her with an eager gesture of protest. She raised her hand and checked him.
"No, I've decided nothing. I can't tell yet," she said. She turned and left him; he heard her steps descending the old winding stair which led from the top of the wall down into the street. He did not know whether he would see her alive again – and with her message of such ambiguous meaning he went to Dunstanbury. Yet curiously, though he had pleaded so urgently with her, though to him her death would mean the loss of one of the beautiful things from out the earth, he was in no distress for her and did not dream of attempting any constraint. She knew her strength – she would choose right. If life were tolerable, she would take up the burden. If not, she would let it lie unlifted at her quiet feet.
His mood could not be Dunstanbury's, who had come to count her presence as the light of the life that was his. Yet Dunstanbury heard the message quietly, and quietly made every preparation in obedience to her bidding. That done, he sat in the little room of the inn and smoked his pipe with Basil. Henry Brown waited his word to take the horses to the door of the church. Basil Williamson had divined his friend's feeling for Sophy, and wondered at his calmness.
"If I felt the doubt that you do, I shouldn't be calm," said Dunstanbury. "But I know her. She will be true to her love."
He could not be speaking of that love of hers which was finished, whose end she was now mourning in the little church. It must be of another love that he spoke – of one bred in her nature, the outcome of her temperament and of her being the woman that she was. The spirit which had brought her to Slavna had made her play her part there, had welcomed and caught at every change and chance of fortune, had never laid down the sword till the blow was struck – that spirit would preserve her and give her back to life now – and some day give life back to her.
He was right. When they came to the door of the church, she was there. For the first time since Monseigneur had died, her eyes were red with weeping; but her face was calm. She gave her hand to Dunstanbury.
"Come, let us mount," she said. "I have said 'Good-bye.'"
Lukovitch knew Dunstanbury's plans. He was waiting for them at the gate, his arm in a sling, and with him were the Zerkovitches. These last they would see again; it was probably farewell forever to gallant Lukovitch. He kissed the silver ring on Sophy's finger.
"I brought nothing into Kravonia," she said, "and I carry nothing out, except this ring which Monseigneur put on my finger – the ring of the Bailiffs of Volseni."
"Keep it," said Lukovitch. "I think there will be no more Bailiffs of Volseni – or some Prince, not of our choosing, will take the title by his own will. He will not be our Bailiff, as Monseigneur was. You will be our Bailiff, though our eyes never see you, and you never see our old gray walls again. Madame, have a kindly place in your heart for Volseni. We sha'n't forget you nor the blow we struck under your leadership. The fight at Miklevni may well be the last that we shall fight as free men."
"Volseni is written on my heart," she answered. "I shall not forget."
She bade her friends farewell, and then ordered Lukovitch to throw open the gate. She and the three Englishmen rode through, Henry Brown leading the pack-horse by the bridle. The mountains were growing gray with the first approaches of dawn.
As she rode through, Sophy paused a moment, leaned sideways in her saddle, and kissed the ancient lintel of the door.
"Peace be on this place," she said, "and peace to the tomb where Monseigneur lies buried!"
"Peace be on thy head and fortune with thee!" answered Lukovitch in the traditional words of farewell. He kissed her hand again, and they departed.
It was high morning when they rode up the ascent to St. Peter's Pass and came to the spot where their cross-track joined the main road over the pass from Dobrava and the capital. In silence they mounted to the summit. The road under their horses' feet was trampled with the march of the thousands of men who had passed over it in an irresistible advance on Slavna.
At the summit of the pass they stopped, and Sophy turned to look back. She sat there for a long while in silence.
"I have loved this land," at last she said. "It has given me much, and very much it has taken away. Now the face of it is to be changed. But in my heart the memory of it will not change." She looked across the valley, across the sparkling face of Lake Talti, to the gray walls of Volseni, and kissed her hand. "Farewell, Monseigneur!" she whispered, very low.
The day of Kravonia was done. The head of the great snake had reached Slavna. Countess Ellenburg and young Alexis were in flight. Stenovics took orders where he had looked to rule. The death of Monseigneur was indeed avenged. But there was no place for Sophy, the Queen of a tempestuous hour.
They set their horses' heads towards the frontier. They began the descent on the other side. The lake was gone, the familiar hills vanished; only in the eye of memory stood old Volseni still set in its gray mountains. Sophy rode forth from Kravonia in her sheepskins and her silver ring – the last Queen of Kravonia, the last Bailiff of Volseni, the last chosen leader of the mountain men. But the memory of the Red Star lived after her – how she loved Monseigneur and avenged him, how her face was fairer than the face of other women, and more pale – and how the Red Star glowed in sorrow and in joy, in love and in clash of arms, promising to some glory and to others death. In the street of Volseni and in the cabins among the hills you may hear the tale of the Red Star yet.
As she passed the border of the land which was so great in her life, by a freak of memory Sophy recalled a picture till now forgotten – a woman, unknown, untraced, unreckoned, who had passed down the Street of the Fountain, weeping bitterly – an obscure symbol of great woes, of the tribute life pays to its unresting enemies.
Yet to the unconquerable heart life stands unconquered. What danger had not shaken not even sorrow could overthrow. She rode into the future with Dunstanbury on her right hand – patience in his mind, and in his heart hope. Some day the sun would shine on the summit of heaven-kissing hills.
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